"Look at the head on that guy! Look at him! You’d never even think about stepping out of the house looking like that would you?”
“Jesus, what about this guy! He could really do with ditching that cheeseburger… walking to the bus is probably the only exercise he gets and even then he’s still eating.”
“That woman behind you is screaming down her phone, listen to what she’s saying, she’s an idiot! Why is she broadcasting it?“
His sentences are punctuated with disgust filled inflections. If he had a face it would be scrunched up to one side, lead by an Elvis-esque lip curl. He'd want you to see the displeasure on his face but would never put it to words. He's a coward like that. Hates confrontation.
His name is Judge Mental and he's an obnoxious little prick that lives entirely inside my head.
I imagine him dressed in all black. A long sleazy trench coat, tied at the waist, highlights the fragility in his physique. Bulging eyes add an uncomfortable intensity to his stare. A stare that is constantly fixated on those around him.
He will look you up and down but avoid direct eye contact as if it caused cancer. He's a coward and yet he deems it appropriate to pass judgement on every random stranger that crosses his path...
In case you didn't get it, I'm trying to tell you that I'm a very judgemental person. Actually I think many of us are and it's the internet that has exposed humanity in this regard.
Social media and comment sections the virtual world over are filled with people having their say, and more often than not these comments are based on a snap judgement of some short piece of text or a single image.
It's very easy to sit in front of a screen judging the person on the other side of it. We don't really know anything about them as a person, the struggles they go through on a daily basis, or the context surrounding their actions. All we've got is a snippet of a person, presented to us through an imperfect medium.
I don't really engage in social media or online communities so most of my judgement happens in the real world. If I have seen you then chances are I've judged you.
Nothing is off limits here either. I'll judge you by your physical appearance, the clothes you're wearing, the noise you're making and sometimes the way you smell.
It's not always negative... But usually is.
So what gives me the right to judge anyone else? Well that's an easy question to answer. I have absolutely no right to judge anyone else. Ever. For anything.
What's going on here is a subconscious process. I see a person, a thought pops into my head, it's judgemental. I don't set out in the morning with the goal of judging as many people as I can. I don't keep count and try to beat my score from yesterday.
These are just the thoughts that fill my mind while it's not actively working on solving some problem, interacting with another person or being distracted by media.
Approach the Bench
A judgemental and negative disposition has some very real connections to poor mental health.
In researching CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) I found a couple of interesting concepts that I was intimately familiar with but had never heard described in a formal way.
The relevant ones for this post have to do with passing judgement on others.
We all have an internal set of rules that we live by. These rules are our definition of what it means to live a moral existence. They dictate socially acceptable ways to behave. We don't share these rules with others, they are simply a set of beliefs and practices that live in our heads. A list that is formed by our life experiences.
I have my own set of beliefs about how to behave in polite society and you have yours. They are different lists that probably have some cross over, but I'd imagine most are pretty unique.
My list would include things like not making an unnecessary amount of noise on public transport, not chewing with your mouth open, not littering, not using your phone in the cinema and not eating fast food out of a bag while walking down the street... It's a long list that is largely subjective and often curiously specific.
When I see people doing things that feature on the list I judge them. In essence I am holding them accountable for not acting in accordance with my list of acceptable ways to behave.
Clearly this is ridiculous. How could they follow my rules? They don't know my list, and even if they did why should they adhere to it? I'm not some enlightened moral authority here to help the human race transcend to the next level of humanity.
But that is what's going on in my head. I am holding others to the same standards I hold myself, and I'm doing so unfairly. Which leads me on to the second concept from CBT that really resonated with me.
I judge other people like I do myself.
When I see people eating a load of junky processed food, smoking or getting completely legless I judge them. I do or have done all of these things myself and have no right to judge them on it, if anything I should be more understanding. But I'm not, I judge them. And I judge them harshly.
Though what I'm actually doing is registering disgust in myself. From time to time I will do one of the above and will hate myself for it. This is then projected outwards.
I see overweight people walking down the street and I judge them because I'm holding them to the standard that I hold myself. A standard that is unrealistic for me, even though I'm in pretty good shape.
I'm seeing my own self deprecating negativity being reflected back at me and it makes me defensive. That's when Judge Mental makes an appearance. He distracts me from the negativity I feel about myself by pushing it onto others around me.
What's interesting about judgemental behavior is that it's only strangers that get this treatment. Once I get to know someone the judgement subsides. Knowing more about them, their lives, likes, dislikes, struggles etc... Causes these judgemental thoughts to all but disappear.
It's like my subconscious recognizes that they have their own list and leaves them to it. The Judge gets to know them a bit a thinks 'Ah I'll let them away with it, they're good people'.
They are no longer a part of the social standard by which I judge myself, they are independent people.
It's also worth considering the fact that being judgemental has its utilities. We're all pretty judgemental when walking down a dark alley alone in the middle of the night and see a pulled up hood walking towards us.
"Look at this dodgy looking fucker! Better keep an eye on him..." says Judge Mental, and it's not bad advice.
There are lots of situations where we need to exercise judgement, and whether or not we judge correctly doesn't matter - the point is to get a reaction, like a hit of adrenaline, just in case we need it.
The problem is when your stream of conscious becomes dominated by negative and judgemental thoughts. It's draining.
CBT will ask you to work on acknowledging these thoughts. To let them float by. The goal is not to become one of those annoying super happy, terminally positive people. It's about not letting your consciousness be over run by negativity and accepting that everyone is fighting their own battle and living by their complex set of subconscious rules. Judgemental thoughts will appear but you need to not dwell on them.
Tell the Judge you ain't got time for his (or her) shit.